Tuesday, April 14, 2015

HBO's Sinatra

Who’s seen the four hour HBO documentary on Sinatra? Who under the age of 50 has seen the four hour HBO documentary on Sinatra? Who under the age of 20 has even heard of Sinatra?

You really should see it. I’m sure they’ll replay it a gazillion times. It’s chock full of great footage and does a pretty good job of giving you a portrait of this extremely gifted and complex man.

As in all Sinatra bios, it’s somewhat slanted in one direction or the other – in this case, favorably. Little surprise there because the family sanctioned it and gave them access to lots of unseen stuff. On the other hand, you can pick up Kitty Kelly’s bio of Frank, open to any page and he’s either having someone roughed up or he’s sleeping with Bacall while Bogie is on his deathbed. A book by his longtime valet reveals that in the early ‘50s when the clock reached 1:00 AM and none of Sinatra’s girlfriends or high-priced hookers were available, he’d call neighbor Peggy Lee and go over to her place to bang her. (That must’ve been lovely for Peggy Lee’s family to read.)

The impossible task is to determine truth from myth. I’m sure some of the stories about him aren’t true, while other, even more outlandish stories, are.

From the valet’s bio: When Sinatra was considering going out with Mia Farrow he was concerned she was still a teenager. Would he have anything to talk about with her? Would he feel like a dirty old man? So his cronies arranged for him to sleep with a few teenagers to, y’know, take ‘em for a test drive. This was not in the documentary. But was it even true? Did Joseph Kennedy and JFK spend weekends at Sinatra’s Palm Springs pad just passing around girls? Again, not in the doc. (But probably definitely true.)

The documentary was very selective. It referenced his father’s death but said nothing about his mother, who died in a plane crash. It talks about the Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapping but doesn’t tell you how they caught the idiots who pulled it. There’s a section about Frank Jr.’s career as a singer but nothing about Nancy’s – and she was successful.

But to its credit, the documentary does not completely whitewash. It practically states that Sinatra got Kennedy elected thanks to the mob fixing the Illinois election. And although Sinatra was truly a champion in the fight for Civil Rights, the movie does show him making horribly offensive racist jokes at the expense of Sammy Davis Jr.   Face it, the man was an enigma.

But he was also a remarkable singer. And the documentary really celebrates that. You see snippets of many performances and get glimpses into his process. He learned a breathing technique from Tommy Dorsey that allowed him to pause in songs based on story points, not the normal breaks. He originated the theme album, chose all his material, and had strong input on his arrangements. For six weeks before recording an album he quit smoking and drinking. In the valet’s book, he said Sinatra also sang opera to prepare his voice. He recorded all of his songs with the orchestra live in the studio. No headphones, no glass booth, no singing over pre-recorded tracks.

Personally, I think his Capitol Records period in the ‘50s was remarkable. He was at the absolute height of his powers at a time when that kind of music was in vogue. To this day I marvel at those albums. No one could sing a torch song like Sinatra. When I was nine they made me cry and I had no idea what he was singing about. Check out this song from 1957. Your heart positively breaks for him even though you know that any girl you ever loved would leave you in a second for him.

His swinging repertoire, masterfully arranged by Nelson Riddle, remains in a class by itself. Sorry, Michael Buble, you’re a cover band.

The fact that Sinatra seemed to record every single song written between 1935-1980, there is a huge body of work. Lots will be forgotten but I feel some of his Capitol tunes will be heard for the next hundred years. The only surviving art of the 20th Century will be I LOVE LUCY and Sinatra’s “Only the Lonely” album.

But then came the ‘60s and his ultimate downfall. I blame it on the Rat Pack. Yes, they were entertaining and put Vegas on the map, but it spawned the Sinatra “ring a ding ding” persona and as the music scene moved on he became more entrenched as this anachronistic hipster and became a joke. He was completely out of touch with rock music, and when he attempted to sing it (with his special “spin”) it was laughable. Listen to his appalling version of Mrs. Robinson. “Jilly” loves you more than you will know. How’s your bird, Mrs. Robinson? Wouldn’t you have loved to be in the room with Paul Simon when he first heard that?

The documentary does show a clip of Sinatra on a Fifth Dimension special wearing a sequenced Nehru jacket and looking like a clown and then later a two-shot of him with Michael Jackson where it’s hard to tell who’s more creeped-out.

But ultimately Ol' Blue Eyes redeems himself, has one last hurrah with “New York/New York, and goes out on a high note.

I saw Sinatra in concert once. It was towards the end of his career. He was bloated, couldn’t hit most of the notes, the toupee was a little crooked, and his jokes were lame. (Quick aside: His jokes were always lame. He thought he was hilarious but never was. If he tried to make a living as a comedian instead of a singer, Peggy Lee would have said, “Stop calling me in the middle of the night! Get lost!”) But it was an unmistakable thrill. Just seeing him, just hearing him sing – and by that time he went back to familiar standards; no massacring Jim Croce songs – I felt I was in the presence of greatness. And how often do you experience that?

SINATRA, the four-hour HBO documentary ultimately focused on that, which is what I wanted. Being at the Universal Amphitheater that summer night, grooving to “Fly Me to the Moon,” I wasn’t thinking that he probably had Marilyn Monroe before Kennedy, or that he should be in prison on fifty counts of aggravated assault – I just reveled in the fact that I would never hear a better singer in my lifetime… and before every song he acknowledged the writers. I loved the guy.

56 comments:

Oat Willie said...

Nothing beats Phil Hartman's version in "The Sinatra Group" from SNL. "You don't scare me, junior. I got CHUNKS of guys like you in my stool!"

normadesmond said...

oops, Bacall.

i too wondered where his duets with nancy were.

i LOVED how they treated barbara. tina's memoir, which i kinda believed, laid the ex-mrs. marx out on a platter....sliced.

Pat Reeder said...

I also got the chance to see Sinatra once. The night before I got married, I did that instead of a bachelor party. Good call. He was older then, and all the critics were carping about how his voice was gone. Horse hockey. It wasn't the instrument it used to be, but it was still remarkable. And nobody was in his league as an actor of lyrics.

I saw him at a big stage at Fair Park in Dallas, where the audience on the lawn stretched out into the distance behind the seating. At one point, the lights on stage dimmed, a solitary spotlight shone down from above onto Sinatra on a stool, and he started singing, "It's a quarter to three...There's no one in the place, except you and me..." And the entire place completely hushed. You could've heard a pinky ring drop on the grass. Instantly, everyone in that huge crowd felt they were in a small bar at 3 a.m. You could practically smell the stale beer and quiet despair. Nobody else could do that with a song.

BTW, my wife's late dad was a genius big band musician who played behind all the greats, including Frank. He also led the jingle singer sessions on classic radio jingles, and was a stone perfectionist when it came to vocalists. She says he always said that Frank Jr. was one of the best singers he ever worked with, and easily the most underrated because of the shadow of his dad.

MikeN said...

YOu would probably be more entertained spending a few hours reading Mark Steyn's reviews of Sinatra.

http://www.steynonline.com/6737/it-was-a-very-good-year

Sinatra in The Godfather is a big what-if. So many people just assume the movie would be terrible, but I think it might have ended up just as good or better.

OrangeTom said...

A friend of mine saw one of his last shows in Richmond, Virginia, where he collapsed near the end of the concert. Everyone always thought it was because of fatigue or old age but my buddy always swore Frank had just passed out drunk, having had constant drink refills throughout the show. Sad way to end . . .

Hamid said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MikeK.Pa. said...

Always admired the artist, but never the man.

I read the valet's - George Jacobs - book, which was a fascinating read. After devoting his life to Sinatra, he was cast aside after more than a decade of service over perceived overtures to Mia Farrow while dancing with her at a disco.

Sinatra could be incredibly kind - paying hospital bills for strangers - and incredibly cruel - Peter Lawford was ostracized from the Rat Pack after the Kennedy brush-off.

In addition to Peggy Lee, Judy Garland was allegedly on speed-dial (before they even had it) when Frank felt the need to summon her for her oral sex skills (said to be the best in Hollywood, according to the valet).

I did find it strange that there was no mention of Sinatra's mother's death, although the doc did allude to the abortion services she provided in Hoboken. Of course, Kitty Kelley went into it in much more detail.

Maybe Alex Gibney, who did the Sinatra doc as well as GOING CLEAR, would have been a little softer on Scientology if they had cooperated as much as the Sinatra estate did on the doc, which was very well done.


Mr. Hollywood said...

Had the joy of seeing Sinatra twice: once at the Universal Amphitheater (his opening act was Sarah Vaughn -- not bad!), once in Vegas.
The best I ever saw or heard on stage. Period. Frank in a tux with a full orchestra behind him. No laser light show. No fireworks. No hysterical out of control dancers around him. Just Frank. Singing the best songs ever written arranged by the finest arrangers that ever lived. And, of course, that incredible voice.
Got a chance to meet him in Vegas in his dressing room after a show. Long story of how I was there, but he approached me and asked who I was and what I thought of the show. Needless to say, I told him it was superb. He smiled, gave me a little light slap on my cheek and said "Glad you liked it kid."
They don't make 'em like that any more.

The Curmudgeon said...

I haven't seen the documentary because cable in Chicago costs an arm and a leg without HBO. But, if "[i]t practically states that Sinatra got Kennedy elected thanks to the mob fixing the Illinois election," it is at least inaccurate in that one respect.

The mob supported the Democratic ticket in Cook County in 1960 -- but the goal was not the election of Sen. Kennedy but the defeat of State's Attorney Ben Adamowski. These were the days of straight ticket voting, however, and the whole ticket benefited as a result.

Daley (Daley, Sr.), too, was out to defeat Adamowski by any means, fair or foul -- not because he was necessarily in bed with the mob, but because Adamowski's investigations into the mob would damage his administration, perhaps fatally. Daley was not unaware of the mob's influence in the Democratic Party in Cook County, but (best case for him) it was just another faction to be kept in line, fed just enough to keep it from opposing him.

Sure, Daley encouraged the myth that he did everything to get a fellow Irish Catholic in the White House -- but my grandmother didn't need Daley to tell her to bring me (then a toddler) into the polling booth in 1960 to pull the Democratic lever -- she wanted a Catholic President (and she wanted me to participate in that historic moment) -- and there were a lot like her.

But Tip O'Neill was right: All politics is local. In 1960, the mob was protecting its base in Cook County and getting rid of a reformer, not electing a President.

This 2001 Chicago Reader article is illustrative -- and there's lots more out there if anyone is interested....

http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/backstabbers/Content?oid=905119

Justin Russo said...

Growing up in an Italian household, I grew up on Sinatra and other crooners of that ilk. My family has been in NYC since the 1890's and I was raised on my grandmother's stories about skipping school and seeing Sinatra and Dorsey at the Paramount. My grandparents' influence certainly peaked my fascination with the Golden Age and now I my career and tastes revolve around the era. There are some of us under 50 who adore the man and his music. I am 28.

The legend of Sinatra, and other stars of this era, is such a challenging concept to swallow. I am a huge Bacall fan (in my book she is only second to Garbo) and hearing about gossip and stories of infidelities and troubles tarnishes the persona and makes it challenging to reconcile. In a strange way, it humanizes the god-like stature these people had, propelled by the studios. We want to believe in the love Bacall had for Bogie or Hepburn for Tracy but documentaries such as Sinatra's remind us that despite belief, they are human and lived life as we do- just with fur.

I do believe in the myth still of these stars' and their love. Look at Frank and Ava - a true tumultuous affair and despite the tales, something that remains powerful. Ava was sleeping around the entire time and yet it's easier to swallow over the Bacall/Sinatra affair because that was part of her allure.

Regardless, Sinatra's talent has rarely been matched and he reins supreme as the one of the best interpreters of the American Song Book. The Riddle arrangements are genius. His only rival is Ella Fitzgerald (and her collaborations with Norman Granz), a close friend who even Sinatra bowed down to, refusing to create a series of albums around songwriters similar to Ella's LPs. Were we to only look at Sinatra for his music rather than his character (which adds to the legend) one could not argue his genius.

I am in agreement that Sinatra's downfall came in the 60's. I often argue with my father over his greatest era. I would choose Capitol or Columbia Sinatra over any Rat Pack album (which era sadly sometimes supersedes his talents).

Thanks for the review, Ken and for the forum to discuss thoughts on such an incredible talent and era.

If anyone is interested in similar stories (and dirt) discussed in Sinatra's bio, I highly recommend "The Fixers" by E.J. Fleming and "Full Service" by
Scotty Bowers (a bit more racy)

Mike Barer said...

Nancy Sinatra, is very accessable on twitter and seems to find time to talk to all of her followers.

VP81955 said...

I'd always liked Sinatra, but I never really got into him until the early '80s, after my father died. My mother, whom I was living with at the time, was understandably depressed, and to keep her from playing the local "beautiful music" station on the radio, I bought her some Sinatra albums, many the truncated versions Capitol issued for a time -- e.g., "In The Wee Small Hours," which I'd later consider the greatest pop album ever made, had but 10 tracks rather than its original 16 (this terrible mistake was rectified during the CD era). I was amazed by his artistry and way of handling a lyric.

In 1983, I took mom to see Frank at the Kennedy Center (she'd seen him sing with Tommy Dorsey's band, then later as a solo crooner at the famed Times Square Paramount). He was in good form that night -- believe it or not, the opening act was the Flying Karamazov Brothers! -- and my mother enjoyed it. (Our balcony seat was directly above where Ronald and Nancy Reagan were sitting, though we couldn't see them, and folks in the orchestra level regularly turned to get their reaction. I quipped to mom, "They must really like that dress you're wearing.")

I saw Frank perform a few years later at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, though this time the arena was only two-thirds full (and thanks to Sid Mark, Philly is avid Sinatra territory). Didn't appear to affect his performance, though.

I own about everything Sinatra issued for Capitol, as well as a few of his better Reprise albums from the early '60s. However, I should also note that from the late '80s on, Columbia has done a fabulous job with his '43-'52 catalog, an underappreciated part of his career. He was a superb balladeer (his late '40s contemporary Perry Como then was nearly as good, believe it or not) and gave a hint of what was to come with early swingers such as "Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)," which I later learned was one of my late father's favorite songs, and "Deep Night," recorded at a 1951 reunion session with Harry James. I'm glad that Frank lived to see this part of his career rehabilitated, just as the pre-Code revival did likewise for Loretta Young as an actress.

tavm said...

Hearing Sinatra's version of "Mrs. Robinson" made me wonder if that was actually Joe Piscopo as him...

Michael said...

I remember when Sinatra died, The Vin came on the Dodger broadcast that night and after the preliminaries said something like this: "Frank Sinatra died. Now, many of you young people think you know romance. But until you've heard the album 'Songs for Young Lovers' by Frank Sinatra with Nelson Riddle conducting, you don't know romance." Perfect.

It sounds like the documentary overstates some things--IF the mob got JFK elected, he hardly needed Sinatra for the connection. But what is NOT overstated or understated about Sinatra?

tavm said...

MikeK Pa, now I can't get the image of Ms. Garland giving Frankie blow out of my mind...THANKS FOR THAT! Yes, that's sarcasm...

Chris said...

Just finished Bacall's autobiography and am almost done with Lee Server's bio about Ava Gardner. Didn't plan to read back to back books about two of Sinatra's women, but they seem pretty consistent about his personality, although Bacall credits him with having more emotional control of his life than Server does. Server paints a picture of a neurotic, needy guy who was pretty much a bully (although there were a LOT of empty threats) when things didn't go his way. Now I guess I'll look for the Kitty Kelly book based on your comments. Oh, and watch the HBO doc. Thanks for the post.

Bob Sharp said...

"It practically states that Sinatra got Kennedy elected thanks to the mob fixing the Illinois election."

Kennedy could have lost Illinois and still won. In Presidential vote is immaterial; all that elections, the overall popular matters is the electoral vote. If Nixon had won Illinois, Kennedy would still have won the electoral vote 276-246.

Tim Ahern said...

Saw him in a benefit concert at Universal Amphitheater (before the roof!) in 1974. Jack Benny played the violin & Gene Kelly sang "Singing in the Rain". Then Frank came out and did his thing. Almost an exact re-do of the "Man & His Music" live album w/ Count Basie recorded in Las Vegas. He still had it then; great show.

Bob Ssharp said...

I have no idea how this got so screwed up.

"It practically states that Sinatra got Kennedy elected thanks to the mob fixing the Illinois election."

Kennedy could have lost Illinois and still won. In Presidential elections, the overall popular vote is immaterial; all that matters is the electoral vote. If Nixon had won Illinois, Kennedy would still have won the electoral vote 276-246.

Anonymous said...

Best line about Sinatra:
Shecky Greene "Frank was quite a guy. He saved my life once...he said 'okay boys, that's enough'".

benson said...

The only time I saw Sinatra was in 1992, with Shirley Maclaine and opening for them, was John Pinette, who tragically died last year. At that point he was just an MTV comedian. As always he made me laugh harder than just about any stand up ever did. Maclaine told stories about her brother and Jack Nicholson pushing baby carriages and discussing breast feeding techniques.

Frank used cue cards and wasn't as young as he used to be, but for a small glimpse here and there, he was still Sinatra.

The Curmudgeon said...

Mr. Sharp is correct (both times) -- but the story is that LBJ to steal Texas (as he'd done before, as readers of Mr. Caro will recall) AND for the mob to deliver Illinois in order to elect Kennedy.

My point was that, whatever LBJ did or didn't do in Texas, Kennedy's election was not the primary concern of either the mob nor County Chairman Richard J. Daley in Cook County.

Mike said...

>I quipped to mom, "They must really like that dress you're wearing.")

Dennis Miller said he took his mother to meet Sinatra, and she said that she saw him at a concert way beck when. Sinatra replied,"I remember that, I sang ..., and you were over there, and you looked good."

Mike said...

>Kennedy could have lost Illinois and still won. In Presidential elections, the overall popular vote is immaterial; all that matters is the electoral vote. If Nixon had won Illinois, Kennedy would still have won the electoral vote 276-246.

True. What's left out of the 'JFK stole the election' story is what Lyndon did in Texas, which doesn't have anything colorful like dead voting.
Kennedy did lose the popular vote, if you count Alabama properly.

Jon B. said...

CBS' "Sunday Morning" recently aired a nice profile on Sinatra to mark his 100th birthday (and the HBO special). One of many items that interested me was his intense desire to out-do Bing Crosby. It reminded me of rivalries in sports between an older ballplayer and the young upstart. [Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle came to my mind, but there may be better examples.]

Mike in Seattle said...

THE RAT PACK is an HBO movie with an okay Ray Liotta as Frank, Joe Montagna as Dean, but Don Cheadle steals every scene as Sammy. This script would have us believe that Marilyn Monroe was passed around among the Kennedys (and who knows what Frank knew about her death); That he wanted to do more for the JFK campaign but Joe Sr. was an impediment at first; That he built a house in Palm Springs just so the President could visit him but JFK went to Bing's house instead and Frank had a humiliated meltdown; that Ava was the one woman who had him on a string. Don't know how much of it is true but it is a decent enough movie especially for the Cheadle scenes.

kent said...

I guess that explains "Is That All There Is?".

tb said...

I saw the doc, loved it. Great clip of him singing 'Luck be a Lady Tonight'
They forgot to include one of my favorite tales, when Don Rickles asked Frank to come by his table at the restaurant and say hello, to impress his date. Frank comes along, says "Hi Don..." and Rickles says "Damn it Frank, can't you see I"m eating!"

Dixon Steele said...

I too saw him at Universal in the 80s and he put on a great show. His patter wasn't bad, and he told one truly funny joke I still remember: His definition of Frustration was being on a desert island, with 100 puns of high-grade marijuana...and no matches.

Pretty hip for an old dude, I thought.

What's particularly interesting about the FSJ kidnapping is that Jan & Dean's Dean Torrance was involved.

Check it out at http://www.jananddean-janberry.com/main/index.php/features/dean-kidnapping-story

Agree, a little more Nancy...and was it just me or did Jr. seem a bit...out of it?

Steve Bailey said...

Ken: I saw Sinatra in concert in 1992 and felt the same way you did. He was using teleprompters to read his lyrics and seemed lost quite a bit of the time, but when he was "on" and clear, he could still put a song across.

Diane D. said...

I recently saw the only movie in which you actually see two people fall in love right there on the screen in front of you--the most beautiful romantic scene there has ever been in a movie (it's from the 1980s). A reviewer said that and said it was because of the great acting, writing, and directing. He forgot to add that the music contributed enormously---"I Wish You Love" sung by NAT KING COLE, and "We Wanted It All" sung by FRANK SINATRA.

Anonymous said...

I saw some of Sinatra movies.
Not bad. I read one of his script. Okay, not bad.

Johnny Walker said...

It's a bit of a curse that growing up in a particular generation that you often see the worse of people before you see the best the fact that there was a Sinatra prior to the "ring a ding ding" Rat Pack version is news to me.

I should probably watch this documentary.

Always loved "New York, New York", though.

Kathleen O'Neill said...

The documentary was riveting. It was not just the story of Sinatra, but of times, places, history, and American culture. I enjoyed listening to his description of his process as a singer - what he learned from observing Dorsey and from his vocal coach, a former opera singer who lost his job because of booze.

I also liked the perspective. So much has been written about Sinatra's faults. I think it was appropriate to show how his children experienced him. I was glued to the set.

CarolMR said...

I don't have HBO so thanks for the review, Ken. My favorite Sinatra song is "Angel Eyes." It's just perfect. I also love the fact that he always acknowledged the songwriters. I knew you'd appreciate that, too, Ken.

Paul Gottlieb said...

"A singer like Sinatra comes along once in a lifetime. Why'd he have to come along in mine?"
Bing Crosby

Cap'n Bob said...

MikeK--Lawrence Wright wrote GOING CLEAR, and believe me, he could have been twice as hard on $cientology and still not plumbed the depths of their depravity.

estiv said...

After hearing of his version of Mrs. Robinson for many years, this is the first time I've actually heard it. And as dumb as the Jilly line is, the reason for it seems obvious: he was raised Catholic in the 1920s, and he wasn't going to say Jesus. His mother would have killed him. Nor does he say God, in a later line.

thomas tucker said...

Estiv: I don't buy that. His Mom was not a practicing Catholic, and Frank said Goddamn many times in his act.

Anonymous said...

Ken Said:

"Face it, the man was an enigma. "

Ken, you've spent most of your life on the west coast, so here's some news:

Most Italians from New Jersey are enigmas.

There was an immigration explosion in the late 1800's. Contrary to popular lore, these were people from Europe, which was in a major social upheaval. People didn't leave Europe for the US because they were rollicking entrepreneurs. They left Europe because they were failures in Europe. They were running AWAY from Europe. Not running TO america.

Soon, they were off the boat to Ellis Island, and into NYC, which was LOADED with losers from Europe, and were not taking too kindly to more idiots taking up space in Five Points.

The people who couldn't hack it in NYC often moved to... New Jersey. Then they would marry and have kids there.

The inbreeding of losers in New Jersey, along with the society they established created many many "enigmas."

A more clinical descriptive would be: psychopath.

So really, Frank is nothing special in New Jersey. Or even the east coast. Sure, LA is loaded with highly successful psychopaths, but many of them are so because of being traumatized somehow. I would call Johnny Carson a psychopath due to childhood trauma. Sinatra was from New Jersey. He was bred for it.

-Big Moe

DwWashburn said...

We've seen the first two hours. When I saw the record of his birth and they stated that his grandmother ran him under water to get his circulation going, I added "Later he put a contract out on her."

I must admit the only thing I know about Sinatra are his '60s Reprise records (Strangers in the Night, My Way, That's Life). I always found him to be tremendously off key, about a half note off constantly. My wife's mom was a big Sinatra fan from the 40s and 50s and what few songs I've heard from that period show that he sang that way during that period too.

Thank goodness I grew up in the age of the Beatles.

Anonymous said...

Johnny Walker said...
"It's a bit of a curse that growing up in a particular generation that you often see the worse of people before you see the best the fact that there was a Sinatra prior to the "ring a ding ding" Rat Pack version is news to me.

I should probably watch this documentary.

Always loved "New York, New York", though."

If you liked NY, NY, then you'll like this. Frank is older, but he's in good voice, and a good mood. Put those two together, and Frank's concerts were amazing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCC0MVa_UWQ

That was from the guy who turned down "mack the knife." If he'd chosen to sing that song, it would have been a monster hit for him. It just didn't interest him that much, since he was BIG at the time. He could do whatever the hell he felt like doing. Bobby Darin thanked his god for that.

This one was before the rat pack period. Another gem:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9ZGKALMMuc

btw, by the time "mrs. robinson" was popular, Frank was pretty dissociated from pop music. I think he wasn't taking that Paul Simon song very seriously, as he didn't take pop music at the time very seriously, with some exceptions. He was still the "King of the Hill" in his genre at the time, and didn't have anything to prove. He sang it because he felt like it for whatever vague reason.

Here he is singing "downtown." It's obvious he's doing it for shits and giggles with his daughter. He's not taking it seriously. He's making it clear that he thinks whoever wrote the song was a lamer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LpBXuq6gac

This man was the premier interpretive artist (imo) for the music of Cole Porter for godssakes!

What the fuck does he care about "downtown," or "mrs. robinson," that even Paul Simon has said was about nothing in particular?

He didn't have a lot of new material to sing in his genre at the time, and wanted to put an album out so he wouldn't disappear in the public mind, so he would put out occasional crappy stuff, and didn't worry that much about it.

When he got something good (new york new york) even at his age, he could still knock it out of the park. And that song still kicks ass today.

A Tip: youtube up any song he's sung by Cole Porter back in the '40's and '50's, and I guarantee you'll enjoy each and every one.

Pat Reeder said...

To Chris:

Do yourself a favor and skip the Kitty Kelley book. You might as well read old National Enquirers. For a really good book on Sinatra, try James Kaplan's "Frank: The Voice."

Orangutanagram said...

Who is the biggest bigwig of them all?

Cap'n Bob said...

It occurred to me later that maybe MikeK was referring to the documentary GOING CLEAR and not the book. If so, apologies.

Allan V said...

I'm really only familiar with a handful of Sinatra's songs, but after reading this post, I'm going to look into more of them.

The few songs of his that I know of I love. I've always felt that his version of "Send in The Clowns" is even more haunting and beautiful than Streisand's.

Steve Allen once said that unlike Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra didn't have a great voice, but he said that Sinatra was still a great singer. That may be a good way of putting it.

VP81955 said...

Allan V said...

Steve Allen once said that unlike Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra didn't have a great voice, but he said that Sinatra was still a great singer. That may be a good way of putting it.


Never heard that analogy made with Andy Williams, but someone -- perhaps Will Friedwald -- once wrote that Vic Damone had a beautiful voice, but didn't really know what to do with it, whereas Sinatra certainly did.

I agree that Frank was ill-suited for the songs of the rock era, just as many of the pop singers of the '20s weren't equipped for the jazz-influenced singing that Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and the terrific Boswell Sisters introduced at the start of the '30s. (I suppose many rock-era singers aren't suited to handle the current hip-hop vocal style either, but that's another story for another time when we discuss melisma gone bad.)

However, Sinatra did manage a few good versions of rock songs, such as George Harrison's "Something" (which he once attributed to Lennon-McCartney on stage). Like many songs in his catalog, Frank tried his hand at it multiple times; the first "Something," from a 1970 album whose title escapes me, wasn't very good, but he came back to it for the middle album of his 1980 "Trilogy," and it's much better. This time, he gets it.

Alan C said...

I like how in Sinatra's rendition of "Something" he inserts "Jack" in "You're asking me, Jack, will my love grow . . ."

I learned recently that when Bela Lugosi died Sinatra paid for a big funeral for him. Lugosi was not well off at the time and Sinatra was a big fan.

McAlvie said...

Yeah, the crooners back then understood that their job was to sell the song. That got lost somewhere along the way. For all that Buble is not Sinatra - well, who is? At least he and a few others actually do have talent. Now we just need more people writing good songs for them to sing.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Saw Mr. Sinatra in L.A. at the Universal Ampitheatere. Don't remember the exact year, but sometime between '75 and '82 because it was still an outdoor venue. He was a bit doddering, but still a breathtakingly good singer. Besides his incomparable voice, what blew me away was each time he flicked his wrist on a downbeat, etc., women flinched and gasped. When he sang, "I've got you...," he really did.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the 80's, so to my generation and to me, he was and always will be a joke. None of this rewriting history. The guy went out a joke. He was great in his day and all that but let's be honest. Guys like him and Elvis and Dean Martin didn't know or weren't able to grow old gracefully.

tavm said...

To the last poster-I could probably add Bob Hope and now Jerry Lewis to that list...

Anonymous said...

To the last two posters: Madonna has been taking a lot of heat over the last week because of kissing (swallowing) Drake's face onstage. Many people are calling her a joke also. Same with SIR Paul McCartney with the dyed hair and Kanye/Rhianna song. Look at Jagger and Dylan (who just released a Sinatra-themed record.) I think they are not so much jokes but people who continue to do what they love to do because that is what defines them AND they don't know how or when to stop. In my 20's I also listened to Fridays with Frank and Sundays with Sinatra (Sid Mark) and was a fan the Eagles, Who and Springsteen, Beatles, Tears for Fears, Madonna (!) just to name a few. Sinatra was infamous for being a one-take singer.That is just amazing and generally unheard of. Bodies may age and we all get old but he was a talent.
Janice B

thomas tucker said...

I can't wait for Anonymous to grow old...gracefully, I'm sure.

Storm said...

"The documentary does show a clip of Sinatra on a Fifth Dimension special wearing a sequenced Nehru jacket..."

Not to be a pedantic pest, but as someone who sews them on costumes for a living, I must point out that it's "sequined", not "sequenced". FUN FACT: Sequins are the damned Tribbles of the sewing universe. Drop ONE on the floor, and the next day they are EVERYwhere.

@Oat Willie: "I was in this business when you were just a glimmer in some drunken mick's bloodshot eye!" God, I miss Phil.

Does the documentary say anything about the infamous rumour that Frank came home one day to find Ava Gardner gettin' funky on Lana Turner's monkey?

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

Anonymous said...

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